At the global scale, Dubai is well-known for its Pharaonic real estate projects such as the Burj Khalifa, the highest building of the world (828 meters) or its extravagances like the Palm Jumeirah, a palm-shaped archipelago completely artificial. However, during the 2016 Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (Gitex), one of the leading trade fairs on new technologies, Dubai was promoting a new facet of the Emirate: the smart city. With the project Smart Dubai, the Emirate wants to become the smartest city in the world by 2020. Dubai government wants to remain attractive in a context of increased competition with neighboring cities while responding to strong demographic pressure (the population has increased fivefold in 10 years) and the overexploitation of water resources given its geographical location. Moreover, Dubai’s oil reserves are relatively low. Moreover, the city had to plan very early the diversification of its economy through tourism, finance, real estate or even entertainment.
Substantial investments in new technologies
In the early 2000s, under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai began the construction of an intelligent, ultra-connected city where new technologies make it possible to improve the efficiency of public services. To accelerate the implementation of its new digital strategy, the Government of the Emirate created the Smart Dubai Government Establishment by the end of 2015. This structure coordinates the digitization policies of the various sectors and proposes new initiatives. In twelve years, Dubai’s smart city strategy would have saved an average of $ 97.5 million a year, thanks to efficiency gains in utilities and the actions taken by the Smart Dubai Government.
A panel of technological innovations
Since April 2015, Dubai has already launched many smart city projects. WiFi is now available freely in parks, buses or taxis. As such, hundreds of “smart palm” have been planted in Dubai’s busiest places to allow visitors to access to Internet freely. The smart palm provides also local information, directions, seating and shade. In addition, by 2020, more than 5,000 WiFi hotspots will be set up. On the mobile application side, Dubai inhabitants can access to public services online or know in real time the state of road traffic. Dubai is also investing in smart public transports with traffic sensors, dedicated applications and the development of smart vehicles such as the setting up of UAV taxis in short-term. Moreover, Bus shelters will provide real-time information on the bus location, route, the number of remaining places and time of arrival, thanks to a smartphone application or signs in the bus shelters.
The Emirate of Dubai is environmental friendly. The government wants to encourage the use of electric vehicles by multiplying the recharge areas in the city. Also, the government wants to develop solar panels and smart electrical meters for optimized consumption management. While Amazon announces UAV deliveries on an experimental basis in approximatively four to five years, Dubai government promises the delivery of official documents (ID, driver’s license, etc.) by automated aircraft in short-term. At the same time, all administrative services are expected to be available on-line and on smartphones, within an “e-government” platform. In the field of security, police will be able to use Google Glass technology to create the world’s smartest police by 2018. Another amazing innovation is the development of medium-term police robots. This robot would be ready to patrol the streets of Dubai by 2020, the year of the universal exhibition that will be held there
The Silicon Park project
Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) has launched an integrated Smart City project based on a value of 1 billion Dhs in 2014. The project will be built in Dubai Silicon Oasis and will cover an area of 150,000 square meters. The Silicon Park project includes 97,000 square meters of office space, 25,000 square meters of commercial space and approximately 20,000 square meters of residential space, as well as a 115-room business hotel. In addition, electric vehicles and intelligent rechargeable bikes will be the main mode of transportion in the technology park. A number of charging stations for electric vehicles will also be installed and will be easily accessible for visitors and residents. Silicon Park is also characterized by its buildings topped with green roofs, which will include plants and trees that require minimal irrigation and use direct sunlight. This project of smart district will implement state-of-the-art technologies to improve water management in order to minimize the ecological impact. The district will also have charging stations for smartphone or smart devices.
Smart city projects developed by Dubai deserve attention. While the implementation constraints are not the same in Europe and the Emirate (resources allocated, policy choices, infrastructures modernization, etc.), Dubaian smart achievements could inspire our European political leaders, especially online public services and e-government initiatives. Improving the efficiency of public services will certainly be easier in a new and “digital native” city like Dubai, but this must remain a major objective for our European cities. Nevertheless, the technological development caused by the race for innovation in the field of smart cities, which is a guarantee of competitiveness and environmental development, is reminiscent of the cyber risks faced by the United Arab Emirates and more generally, the Middle East.
According to a report by Symantec published in 2015, more than 2 million people in the United Arab Emirates have been victim of an act of cybercrime. In 2012, 46% of social networking users in the country have suffered from cybercrime on social networking platforms. Phishing attacks and ransomwares have become commonplace. Many companies, including the petroleum sector, have suffered cyberattacks. Like Saudi Aramco in 2012, a malware targeted several Saudi multinationals specialized in the exploitation or hydrocarbons distribution, but also government agencies in November 2016. Given the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, the cities of the UAE are not immune to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the latest reports from specialized consulting firms, like Symantec. The future will tell us whether cybercrime will represent a real brake on the emancipation of the smart city or whether thanks to its cyber infrastructures, Dubai will be able to effectively combat cybercrime.